Chile president urges open dialogue in drafting new constitution

Sebastian Pinera’s ruling coalition suffered big loss last month in election of representatives to draft constitution.

Chile's President Sebastian Pinera presents his annual report at the National Congress in Valparaiso, Chile, on June 1 [Marcelo Segura/Chilean Presidency/AFP]

Chile’s outgoing president has urged 155 representatives who will be drafting a new constitution for the South American nation to abandon the “politics of the trenches”, engage in open dialogue and reach agreements.

In his annual State of the Nation address on Tuesday, centre-right President Sebastian Pinera said he would convene the new body “in the coming days”.

He said hoped the Constitutional Convention would “rigorously respect the limits and rules” of its mandate and preserve the rights, opportunities and freedoms of all Chilean citizens.

“An agreement will only be possible if we are willing to talk and listen to each other and abandon the politics of the trenches so that history remembers (the convention) as those who forged powerful agreements and a better future for Chile,” he said.

Last month, Chileans were tasked with electing representatives to replace the current constitution, which was written in the 1980s during Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship.

The representatives – who were among more than 1,300 candidates – will have nine months to write a new document. It will then be submitted to a mandatory plebiscite.

“I want to participate in any way I can in the shaping of the future of our country,” voter Monica Manriquez, 83, told Al Jazeera from a polling station in Santiago on May 16. “Elections define in a significant way the destiny of a nation.”

While Pinera’s ruling Chile Vamos coalition had promised to win at least one-third of the Constitutional Convention seats, it suffered a shocking loss at the polls.

Most seats went to left-leaning independent candidates, including many from social groups that emerged out of the 2019 protests against inequality.

In his speech, Pinera said while he respected the body’s autonomy, he hoped to see water and property rights safeguarded, along with rights to health, quality education, housing, work, and social benefits.

A person holds a banner during a demonstration as Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera delivered his annual State of the Nation address, in Santiago [Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters]

Also on Tuesday, Pinera announced plans to push through a same-sex marriage bill that has stalled in the historically conservative country for years.

“I think the time for equal marriage has come in our country,” he said during his address.

“All people, regardless of their sexual orientation, will be able to live, love and form a family with all the protection and dignity they need and deserve.”

His government’s popularity has fallen amid coronavirus-related poverty and joblessness, as well as due to its attempts to block citizens from drawing from their privately held pensions.

The country has reported more than 29,300 COVID-19 deaths and more than 1.3 million cases to date, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters